In a Super Bowl ad, Dodge Ram used Dr. King’s words from a sermon to sell a truck — It backfired!
The Dodge Ram ad pitted spiritual against material, demeaning the civil rights movement and people that embodied it.
Dodge had an idea: to sell a truck using Martin Luther King’s words as a voiceover in an ad. His words extracted from an iconic sermon, juxtaposed against images of a Dodge Ram truck slogging through the elements.
Ironically, it was the elements of the sermon Dodge failed to understand. Words lost to the purveyors of the ad who likely didn’t read “The Drum Major Instinct,” the sermon in which King chastised man’s inherent need to be “first” and outperform his neighbor—by buying a bigger house, or truck, in order to feed his ego and feel superior — a selfish pursuit to fulfill one’s needs rather than the needs of others.
In their desire to advance profits over people, Dodge maligned the meaning of Dr. King’s words, contrasting his eloquent sermon that extolled the merits of serving the community, while Dodge served their corporate interests with a montage of images of a truck they hoped to sell.
Dodge Co-opted King’s Words
If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful.
And Misconstrued The Meaning
But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.
Dodge perverted the word “greatness” by pandering to man’s materialistic needs, repurposing King’s words to mean the opposite of their intent.
By overtly and subliminally promoting the greatness of a truck, Dodge appealed to man’s narcissistic yearning that “to keep up with the Joneses,” he must buy a new truck. The very point Dr. King lamented in his sermon.
Dodge not only diminished the value of King’s words that celebrated the importance of serving the community, they besmirched King’s legacy by omitting the prophetic words he spoke two months before his murder.
Words that the Dodge Ram people had failed to see. That if they had read, would have known that his words were the heart of the sermon.
Dr. King’s Prophetic Words
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.
I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.
Rubbernecking The Wreck
Hearing Dr. King speak while images of a truck flashed in the foreground of his sermon, spurred a visceral dissonance in me as I witnessed two opposing forces that were never intended to meet.
A truck powering through mud and hauling a transplanted church cannot be compared to heroic acts of defiance against proponents of racism, another theme heralded in Dr. King’s sermon.
How could Dodge Ram have gotten it so wrong? — Using two inherently opposite vehicles of comparison for commercial purposes.
By distorting Dr. King’s meaning of “greatness,” Dodge demeaned Dr. King’s greatness, and the civil rights movement he spent his life advocating to advance. You cannot splice Dr. King’s words into a 60-second ad and hope to sell something by bastardizing the meaning of his words.
Dodge, it’s never too late to right a wrong as Dr. King would have agreed. Instead of promoting the greatness of a truck, promote the greatness of the man. Educate the young viewers who might have only heard Dr. King‘s words spoken in the voiceover of the Dodge Ram ad.
Instead of splicing King’s words into an ad to sell a truck, add Dr. King’s image and remove the truck. Advance the cause for which Dr. King and so many others sacrificed their lives. Educate America’s youth about the civil rights movement. Use this error in judgment as a teaching moment instead of selling out a movement and muddying the meaning of an icon’s sobering words.